The guide is a bible that the Kraken have curated for players and families, to be distributed as soon as possible after the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft presented by Upper Deck on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, SN NOW).
The guide is necessary because once the draft happens, the expansion team suddenly will have 30 new players and 30 new families, not including free agent signees and players acquired in trades (Seattle will select one player from each team, excluding the Vegas Golden Knights). And all of them will be scrambling to find places to live and places to send their kids to school, all of them will have questions and needs and, though the resource guide may not answer every one of them, it’s a start.
“It’s a really in-depth guide,” executive assistant for hockey operations Sadie Klingman said. “It goes through everything from Seattle as a whole, talking about good hikes and the Pacific Northwest and the organization, and it also goes into specific neighborhoods, schools, restaurants, everything.”
The logistics do not end with what Vegas director of hockey administration Katy Boettinger called the “good neighbor guide,” which mimics one created by the Golden Knights ahead of the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, which mimicked one created by the Washington Capitals ahead of the move of their practice facility to Arlington, Virginia, in 2006.
Need a work visa? Kraken executive assistant to the general manager Brooke Coyle has the details down. Need a nanny? Klingman has researched them. Need a hotel as an opposing team? Manager of team services Brennan Baxandall has been working on it.
“Those are kind of the heroes of the story, the unsung heroes,” said Colorado Avalanche forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who was selected by the Golden Knights in the 2017 expansion draft.
With aid from the Golden Knights — especially from Boettinger, who worked for Vegas president of hockey operations George McPhee with Washington — the Kraken are aiming to make sure it’s as easy as possible for the players, using a four-year-old blueprint.
Still, as Coyle said, “There’s going to be a lot of sleepless nights.”
Defenseman Nate Schmidt knew in the week leading up to the 2017 expansion draft that either he or goalie Philipp Grubauer was likely to be chosen from the Capitals. Then, four hours before the draft, McPhee called while Schmidt was coaching a game at the Minnesota Hockey High Performance Summer Camp.
He slipped off the bench, learned his fate, and tried to figure out what to do next.
“My mind was in a blender,” Schmidt said. “You kind of go into overdrive the next day. You start thinking: What’s the next step? … Where am I going to go? Where am I going to live?”
Schmidt turned to a connection: Jason Zucker. Schmidt was close with forward Erik Haula, who had played on the Minnesota Wild with Zucker just prior to being selected by the Golden Knights. Zucker had grown up in Las Vegas. Schmidt and Haula ended up staying at Zucker’s place while they searched for their own living arrangements.
“But, by the time we got there, [Zucker] was out to Minnesota,” Schmidt said. “The biggest resource that we had was Deryk Engelland.”
Engelland, who had lived in Las Vegas for the previous 14 or so summers, was kept busy fielding calls and texts, questions and requests for advice. Not only was he joining the Golden Knights — he signed as a free agent and counted as their selection from the Calgary Flames — the defenseman had boots-on-the-ground knowledge of the city.
Bellemare texted him the day after the expansion draft after getting his number through his agent, wanting help finding a house that would feel like a home immediately, given that his wife, Hannah, was pregnant. He wasn’t the only one.
It was so extensive that Engelland’s wife, Melissa, created her own guide for new teammates, emailing out their personal likes, dislikes and recommendations.
“Guys come to camp and then find where they want to live, but girls like to plan everything out,” Engelland said. “There were a lot of people with kids. [Melissa] put together a list of schools and doctors and pediatricians and then just sent it out to people. You tried to give as many guys as you could spots to live. … Just something to make it a little easier for everyone’s transition.”
Combined with the work the Golden Knights did, it all helped the players not feel so adrift, to eliminate stress and allow them to focus on hockey.
“The team did set up a whole lot of stuff for everybody,” Schmidt said. “They gave you a packet — this is where you get everything. If this is where you live, this is the grocery store you’re going to want to go to. They really simplified it so much that you really didn’t have to think. You just kind of got there.
“Here’s your key card to get in the rink. Here’s this, here’s that. We’re going to provide everything for you at the beginning, and then we’ll let you find your own way after a couple of weeks, after you get a little more comfortable.”
That’s the side the Kraken are focused on now, given that there’s no guarantee that they will select players who can fill the role of Engelland and Zucker, with few Washington natives as options. So they have made sure to find players from other Seattle teams — the Mariners of MLB, the Seahawks of the NFL, and the Sounders of Major League Soccer — who can connect with the Kraken.
And, as Baxandall said, welcome them to the family.
The Kraken have already begun distributing their resource guide, with coaches and assistants having been hired and Seattle acquiring its first player, center Luke Henman, who agreed to a three-year contract May 12. And after the expansion draft, Coyle, Klingman and Baxandall are likely to split up the list of contacts from general manager Ron Francis and begin the long process of getting to everyone.
They’ll need to react to the selections: Does the team skew older or younger? Are there a lot of wives and girlfriends and families? How much stuff will the players have to move? And where will they want to move it?
They have answers now. But it started from nothing. At Page 1.
“At the early stages of it, Sadie and I didn’t really know where to start on it,” Coyle said.
They set up meetings over Zoom, asking for the moving companies used by the other professional athletes in the city, inquiring about the florists they liked, the car services they called, the nannies who cared for their kids. They asked about negative experiences too, wanting to smooth the path to Seattle from their disparate home cities.
They know the younger players will likely want to rent condos near the rink, that the older, more veteran players will need houses and neighborhoods that are quieter, better for families. It’s about finding schools, public and private, that have the knowledge and experience to handle the children of professional athletes, whether that’s about celebrity or scheduling.
They also have to get the players there, to arrange visas or visa transfers, to work through immigration issues, with additional steps needed because of COVID-19. Even players already under contract in the United States need help, a new I-797 form for a new employer. Coyle has gotten a dry run on the paperwork for Baxandall, who is from Calgary, and some Kraken scouts who are eligible for P-1 support visas, paperwork which could only start after they signed Henman. And once those are finished, those players will need a Washington state driver’s licenses, a new insurance plan, perhaps even a new cell phone number.
They count themselves lucky that Boettinger has been there to help.
“It’s just been so reassuring just knowing that we have her to bounce ideas off of, to know ahead of time what to expect,” Coyle said. “But we’re also very aware that there are going to be new things that are going to be thrown at us that Vegas never experienced.”
For the Golden Knights, the situation was even more hectic. The expansion draft was June 21, with a show to put on, with the selections being named during the 2017 NHL Awards at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. That was followed by flights to Chicago for the 2017 NHL Draft on June 23 and 24. This time there are no flights and fewer moving parts, given the coronavirus pandemic.
Boettinger was busy contacting the newly selected players, smuggling them to Vegas under assumed names and with secret identities, arranging car services and hotels. She was also trying to work around the conflicting feelings that she knew might come with the selection because being taken in an expansion draft can be uprooting and disorienting.
“It’s a mixed bag,” Boettinger said. “Some guys are going to be beyond excited to join the new club and some guys it’s emotional, they’re leaving what may have been their only home, where they’ve perhaps raised a family, where they’ve been for years. So navigating those personal waters were really critical.”
Which is why the Kraken want to ensure that the new arrivals feel comfortable, and that their questions are answered, so they can concentrate on their jobs.
“I want to make sure that they can come to me for anything and try and take away any excuses on their end and let them focus on hockey,” Baxandall said.
Because, ultimately, that’s the best thing they’d like to take from the Golden Knights: the results. In its inaugural season, Vegas made it to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, losing to Washington. But that’s easier said than done.
“Talking to Katy, she said there’s no perfect blueprint of how it’s going to happen,” Baxandall said. “It’s different with every organization, different with the types of players you’re going to get. We’re just going to have to be adaptable, we’re going to be patient as well.”
Which is a good lesson for everyone.
“My advice to my previous self or even to anybody else is just, hey, you don’t have to do it in one day,” Schmidt said. “The team’s going to reach out to you, you’re going to get things done. You can just take a second.
“That would probably be my biggest thing: Be patient.”
And, perhaps, before you ask, check the guide.